ATLANTA: Until now, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was gently reminding rookie Kyrie Irving that his defense needs to improve. Now the patience is wearing off.
In his most pointed comments yet, Scott blasted Irving’s defensive effort in the Cavs’ 39-point loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday. He said Irving’s defense has to improve – now.
“The defense starts with him,” Scott said. “He’s the head of the snake and I know it’s a lot of responsibility for a 19-year-old, but it is what it is and he’s got to do a better job. And he’s aware of it.”
Scott delivered a stern message Saturday morning to Irving about his defensive effort. The Bulls were playing without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, but C.J. Watson started in his place and had eight points and five assists in the first quarter. Three points and five assists came while Irving was defending him.
“C.J. Watson to me almost looked like Rose the way he was going by [Irving],” Scott said. “C.J. was going around him like he was standing still most of the time.”
Irving had 11 points in the first quarter, including a deep 3-pointer, and kept the Cavs in the game offensively. But when he was lifted late in the first quarter, he was on the receiving end of a sharp, brief conversation with assistant coach Paul Pressey. Then Scott took his turn chastising Irving on Saturday.
“He’s a defensive-minded coach and he was a defensive-minded player,” Irving said. “I kind of appreciate him giving it to me like that because I do have to get better. It’s all about what my man is doing. I take full responsibility for it.”
Irving ranks 27th among point guards in minutes (27.9 per game), but is fourth in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Scott said he has noticed Irving conserving energy on defense at times, presumably in an effort to score more. Irving leads the team in scoring, but Scott said that mindset has to change immediately.
“He had better coast on offense,” Scott said. “I made that point not only to him, but everybody. If you are going to rest, you rest on the offensive end. You’re not resting on defense.”
With the condensed season and Irving being only a rookie, Scott has limited his minutes through the season’s first month. They’ll eventually increase, Scott said, but not until his defensive effort improves.
“Almost every night you have a great point guard coming at you,” Scott said. “You are going to run into a guy every night that can play, and if you are not ready or you’re lazy or you’re just not into it, you are going to get eaten up.”
Daniel Gibson was unavailable Saturday night because of a death in the family. Gibson was scratched less than an hour before the game, leaving the team thin at guard.
The actives/inactives list had already been submitted, so Mychal Thompson was also inactive. As a result, Alonzo Gee spent time at shooting guard and Luke Harangody picked up rare minutes at small forward.
The Cavs’ interior defense has been a problem at times this season and was again Friday against the Bulls. Scott was irritated enough that he dumped Semih Erden after the first half and played little-used Samardo Samuels in the second half.
“I was sick of [Erden] last night,” Scott said Saturday. “I’m OK with him tonight.”
Samuels had four points in nine minutes, his first game action in 12 days.
Samuels said the loss to the Bulls felt like some of last season’s miserable losses.
“It was a scary flashback,” Samuels said. “We don’t want to go back in that direction.”
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